Monthly Archives: January 2016

On Justice

On Justice

– portrait of Margareta van Eyck, Groeninge Museum, Bruges

Here I am
every bit as real
an image as you.
How come you
get to breathe?

Look at this mastery,
the skill applied here, and here,
the dab of light
on the flesh
at the corner of the eye –

How good are you?
What do you do so well?
Why is it oxygen burns
when it touches
the blood in your lungs?

First published in Other Poetry III.3

Self Portrait

This poem was inspired by a Van Gogh self-portrait. I’ve always found looking at paintings a great source of inspiration for writing poems. I’ll post a few more poems from paintings in weeks to come, including some based on work by the only painter I’ve ever known, Jocelyn Merivale.

Jocelyn died a year ago, far too young, but she made a big impression on me. As well as being a great artist and a fabulous host, she was also a teacher, and one night she gave me some significant advice on writing for teenagers. Not too dark, she told me, there has to be hope.

A message she embodied throughout her generous and inspirational life.

She was also a big fan of Van Gogh.

Self Portrait

His face is alive with stitching,
and all the colours under the sun.
Like a wheat field scored by a gusting wind,
or a closing pride of unseen predators.
And from somewhere in the field –
white and green.

The face a ginger cat-monster’s face,
a knitting of beauty and beast.
The stitched lips unable to utter
something in the mind made true.
And leaping from the apparition’s glare –
grey and blue.

Or the face that of a crash victim,
weak flesh mended by a Frankenstein –
the blood still congealed,
the beard red, from the knife’s touch.
And somewhere on the ear, near the top –
a little more red.

From his face he’s made his own straw doll,
set it in motion on the canvas
with a thousand frenzied strokes.
So now it’s alive, alive with stitches,
a witch’s doll, and he’s pierced it
with those smooth, colourless eyes.


Self Portrait first appeared in Staple no.48